Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien - Symphonic
MUSSORGSKY orch Ravel:
Pictures at an Exhibition
North German Radio Symphony Orchestra of Hamburg/Gunter Wand.
RCA RED SEAL 74321 72788 2.
It's only in the booklet that the total playing time of this CD is printed
and then it's short by a few seconds. That shown above is correct. But quality
before quantity every time: this is an excellent release.
The Debussy Fragments (the usual selection taken from the rarely performed
score Debussy provided for Gabriele d'Annunzio's `mystery play', which has
been more fully recorded by Ansermet, Bernstein and Munch) are realised with
extraordinary devotion by Wand. He has no need to apply a gloss of false
sensuality. This music properly glows because Wand's work begins inside the
orchestra. His care over detail, inner strands of texture, and his trust
in Debussy's orchestration (with Caplet's assistance) to itself conjure and
suggest is sufficient. The playing is refined and sensitive, the music's
interior quality compellingly realised. There's a powerful sense of narrative
running throughout this rendition with climaxes ecstatically achieved; a
spiritual radiance is conveyed through collective dedication. Wand sees these
Fragments as an entity and his long-term thinking is always apparent. I don't
think I've heard this music sound as significant as it does here.
RCA have been hanging on to the Debussy since 1982. Its similarly live companion
was recorded in February 1999. Nowadays one thinks of Wand as a conductor
of Beethoven, Brahms and, especially, Bruckner, but as he approaches his
tenth decade he's more than able to tackle one of the great orchestral
showpieces. Except, for Wand, Pictures isn't a showpiece.
Wand's success here is to reveal and balance all aspects of Ravel's orchestration
so that we are more aware of the darker seams in the French master's work,
which takes us closer to Mussorgsky's piano original and his direct response
to Hartmann's paintings. It's also Wand's always-musical attention paid to
the text that brings more, rather than less, characterisation to certain
movements. So Bydlo (track 11) really is lumbering his cart home - one feels
his effort; and instrumental incident in `Unhatched Chicks' (track 14) is
illuminated further by Wand taking a slightly more moderate tempo than usual.
I'm more conscience of a Russian expression in this music than is often the
case when Ravel's orchestration is used. Very good sound, well-balanced and
natural - just like Wand's conducting. The Debussy is exceptional; Mussorgsky's
music is tellingly revealed and Ravel's orchestration is shown in a new light.
See also review by Ian Lace